I will leave the Minister and the hon. Gentleman to fight that one out. I have given him enough to answer. How can he justify an imposition of this kind on the country, and to what good purpose is it?
That is not an end of the matter. Other anomalies are arising all the time. There was the recent example of the reference to the Parliamentary Commissioner by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). A £460 levy was charged in two cases when there was a net profit on the sale of land of only £40. How can that be justified? The Minister had to make an extra-statutory concession. He has waived part of the levy. But one doubts the legality of this matter. Has he the power to do these things? One wonders whether it would be correct to bring forward amending legislation to deal with the anomalies.
There are other examples of frustration being caused by the operation of the Land Commission Act. An example was brought to my attention the other day concerning the simple question of a change of user of premises. There was no question of material development under the town planning Acts. It was merely a question of a series of leases and the final tenant wishing to change the user. Owing to the way in which the leases were drawn, he could not do this without a variation being made in the terms of his lease, and this had to be followed through the line of several under-leases and head leases back to the freeholder. As the Minister knows, this would involve a Case F charge, which in turn would require an assessment of levy under Case B as though a new lease were being granted. The freeholder, the head lessor and the sub-lessor refused to entertain the idea, because if they agreed to meet the sub-sub-tenant, who was no concerns of theirs, and granted the permission for which he asked they would be charged the levy and no benefit would result for them. The property has been rendered sterile because of the way in which the Land Commission Act is operating.
One hears complaints from developers concerning Case C. One cannot but feel that much useful development is being discouraged through uncertainty about the way in which the levy is likely to affect the finances of a particular transaction. Far from releasing land for development, the Act is having the opposite effect, because it is discouraging people from bringing forward land for development purposes. All the while the fear of the betterment levy, the prospect of the charge, is causing land prices to soar. This has been the subject of Parliamentary Questions, but the Minister has been singularly uncommunicative. The evidence from estate agents, the financial Press and the property gazettes shows that land prices have risen 20 per cent. as a direct result of the imposition of the levy. In addition, there is the appalling waste of manpower in the Civil Service having to deal with all these forms and in the estate agents and legal professions having to try to meet the complexities of this entirely unnecessary legislation.
A nastier situation is arising which was the subject of a Question only two days ago, when the Minister admitted that there were coming to his attention cases in which the Land Commission Act was being used for blackmail purposes. Developers have been saying to people with a little land attached to their houses which could be developed, "We want to buy your land and our price is so much". Perhaps the owner does not want to sell, or he may think that the price is nonsensical. It may be a large garden attached to a house. When he refuses the offer, the developer says, "If you do not sell to me, I shall say to the Land Commission, 'Here is land ripe for development which the owner is holding back', and the Land Commission can compulsorily purchase the land from you at its own price. So you had better accept my offer while the going is good". The Minister knows that this is happening. He has deplored it on the Floor of the House. This is the type of situation that the Act is bringing about.
The case for the abolition of the Land Commission is becoming overwhelming. If the Minister will not do anything about it, if he will not have second thoughts, we will when the country gives us the opportunity to do this.